Success doesn’t always make people happier. In the case of Fun., however, it seems to have done just that.
This past February, the Grammy-winning three piece released a statement which put the band’s future on hold, at least for the time being. Rather than follow up the smash success of Some Nights and cash in on an already massive fan base, the group opted to pursue their own, individual projects. Guitarist Jack Antonoff has had a good amount of success with his band Bleachers. Keyboard player Andrew Dost is scoring films like The D Train and the HBO documentary It’s Me, Hilary. And lead singer Nate Ruess is gearing up for the release of his first solo album, Grand Romantic.
The statement also defined the band as more of a space for three established artists to come together and collaborate, instead of being their primary bread and butter. And so far, the bandmates have done a good job of establishing themselves elsewhere—Ruess in particular. He’s collaborated on songs with P!nk and Eminem, and was featured as a guest advisor on NBC’s The Voice. And from the sound of the new album, he’s happier than ever.
Depending on how you felt about Fun., this could either be a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, Ruess has always written songs with some degree of angst and bitterness to them. At the same time, he’s also capable of a surprising amount of heart and sensitivity. On Grand Romantic, however, he tends to stick to the latter.
As Ruess recently told the New York Post, “On the albums I’m used to writing, there’s usually a little more sulking. But on this one, I felt like celebrating. I feel like I have learned a lot more in the last year than I have in a long time. I’m more open to being vulnerable than I ever have been.” He also notes how much of the album was influenced by his relationship with fashion designer Charlotte Ronson. Much of Ruess’s story reminds me of how fans reacted when Ben Gibbard sobered up and married. Say what you will about Codes and Keys, but it’s undeniably the worst-reviewed album of Death Cab’s career. When artists known for their moodiness and gloom fall in love, the results can be somewhat mixed. Likewise, fans who gravitated to Fun. for their more acerbic edge will likely be disappointed.
That’s not to say the attitude is entirely missing—Ruess describes “AhHa” as the evil twin of “Some Nights,” even going so far as to borrow a refrain from the song. “Great Big Storm” hints at a similar tone at times too. But other than that, Grand Romantic is largely filled with more tender, sappier songs than fans might be used to.
And I do mean sappy. The album is filled with countless ballads and love songs, often accompanied by snail-paced musical arrangements. Despite Ruess’s position in the mainstream, very little about Grand Romantic seems geared for radio success (with the possible exception of “You Light My Fire”). The album’s lead single, “Nothing Without Love,” hasn’t made any significant impact on the charts since its release back in February. It’s a meandering, shapeless track that centers itself around a common refrain than an actual chorus. Unique as it might be, it doesn’t have the structure needed to pull of any real success.
Many of the other tracks seem to lack any real identity, and nothing especially stands out aside from the few singles and “Fire.” Ruess’s collection of twelve songs reaches the pinnacle of sap with “Moment,” a track I almost can’t believe made it past the cutting room floor. If his bandmate Antonoff’s music was taken from a John Hughes movies, Ruess’s must be taken from a Lifetime movie.
To put it another way, Grand Romantic is probably the most appropriate title in the worst way. If it had been a Fun. album as much of it was originally intended, there’s a strong chance it would’ve been reviled. Until the gang is back together, you might be better off just sticking with Bleachers.